The Bad Project

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Chapter 18. Crystal and Marianne Discuss Liu/Crystal

Marianne didn’t bring up the drinking, but Crystal was so curious about her reaction that finally she had to ask, “Well, what did you learn from that drinking Bad?”

Marianne opened both eyes wide. “I had to learn something?”

“Yep, that’s what’s been missing from this Bad Project. You need to think more each time about what you’ve learned.” Crystal felt disappointed that Marianne hadn’t wanted to debrief on the project without being prompted. It was a project, after all. “The tat, well you learned how much your parents didn’t want to lose control over you. What did you learn about yourself? And with the drinking, what did you learn?”

Marianne frowned. “Crystal, how come you didn’t tell me I’d get so sick if I kept on drinking? Liu says you started dancing with that Bronnie and forgot all about me.”

“Liu was the one who forgot all about you, he just left the party when you started getting sick, and Bronnie and I brought you home,” Crystal said angrily. “He’s a real bastard to accuse me of forgetting you.”

Marianne looked at her and said nothing for a minute, and then she said, “He’s Chinese.” It was quiet for a few minutes while the girls stared at each other.

“I don’t understand what you mean, he’s Chinese so it’s okay for him to abandon you at the party sick?”

“No, not exactly. Chinese men aren’t really caretakers. They’re bosses, people take care of them. Also, no one Chinese wants to lose face, so he saves me from that by going away when I am disgraced.”

Crystal thought it over and decided she had a long way to go in trying to understand the assumptions of Chinese culture. She thought she should straighten out the record on what had happened though.

“Well, maybe I did have fun dancing with Bronnie, and I didn’t watch you the whole time. Would you have wanted me to?”

“No, not really,” Marianne said, with a small smile. “But don’t criticize Liu.”

“Why not?” Crystal crossed her fingers hoping Marianne wasn’t in love with Liu. He was probably into criminal things. He wouldn’t look her in the eye and he looked sly.

“I like him, and he’s my mentor Sharon’s brother.”

“Okay, I won’t say any more. But did you learn anything yet?”

“I don’t know. I guess I learned that it’s fun to be Bad, if you don’t go too far. I loved getting the tattoo, the planning. It hurt physically a little bit, but knowing it was sort of a badge of growing up was exciting. And the idea of choosing a painful experience on the way to something you want is something to write about. I met some strange folks there at the tattoo parlor, and they might end up in my stories too.” Marianne opened a water bottle and took a sip. Crystal thought she didn’t sound like she’d enjoyed the tattoo, even though she said she had.

Marianne continued, “Drinking was exciting, fun to get the glow and feel like you’re so fascinating to other people. Makes me relax a little bit. But going too far is hard to figure out, where’s that line. If you go over it, you get a fucking nasty surprise like parental threats and throwing up all night, plus a hangover.” Crystal thought she sounded like maybe she’d enjoyed the alcohol high. But it probably scared her not to remember what had happened. Control was important to Marianne. She’d bet Marianne wasn’t going to drink too much again any time soon.

Marianne screwed the top back on the bottle and put it on her desk. “I have to ask you again, why didn’t you tell me about hangover, sick? My dress is at the cleaners, but I bet it’s totally ruined.”

“You want experience, right? I did tell you to take it easy, don’t you remember? Maybe I should have told you not to wear that dress.” Crystal cleared her throat. “But some time you were going to drink too much. I thought it might go better for you if I was there when you did it, so I could take care of you. And I did, I brought you back, cleaned you up, sat up with you all night. Don’t you remember?”

“No, I don’t remember anything about it, but thank you, you did all that. Did you say Bronnie helped you? That’s embarrassing.”

“Yes, he and I walked you back to the room, between us.”

“Did he have to see me all drunk?”

“Everyone at the party had to. You barfed all over the ladies room and passed out in there. We had to walk you out past most of the people.”

“Oh, shit. Did Liu see me?” Marianne’s lips thinned and turned down at the corners.

“No, he had disappeared, like I said. I don’t know when, because a student affairs staffer came and got me and said you were calling my name in the john. Liu wasn’t around.”

“That’s awful, but I’m glad he didn’t see me all covered with barf. You know that Mai Tai tastes so fucking good, it was screaming hot and we were dancing, I just kept on drinking it. How much makes you sick?”

“Depends on the alcohol in it, and on your experience too. I’d say one drink is safe, two might be fine, but I wouldn’t take three. How many did you have?”

“I have no idea. Maybe six.”

“Geez, no wonder you got sick. But you’ll know next time.”

“Is that what I learned? How much I can drink without being sick?”

“Maybe. Also that alcohol makes you forget your inhibitions.”

“Yeah, that’s true. Might make sex more likely, if I wasn’t sick.”

Marianne looked at Crystal, who sat like she was turned to stone. “Can I ask you about sex?”

Crystal got her voice together so she could answer, “Well, I’m not an expert about that.”

“I’ll ask Sharon then, or maybe Joyce if it’s about Liu. I think it makes you uncomfortable, right?”

Crystal didn’t say anything, but her mind tried to sneak back in time and she fought to keep the memories shut away. She clamped her mouth shut and struggled to regain her poise.

Marianne smiled at her and asked, “Are you satisfied with my thinking about the Bad Project? Or do I need to think more about it?” Crystal still sat, so Marianne answered her own question, “I guess I do. Actually, I am pretty sure I’m getting off light. I don’t feel like I’ve had to take any strong punishment yet from the Bad Project. You know, what you said about the bad attracting misery. But the experiences are definitely ones I’ve never had before. And I’m starting to use them in my writing.” She grabbed her backpack. “Well, maybe we’ll talk later this week. I have to go to the Library now.” She closed the door gently, leaving Crystal staring into space, shoving black leather jackets and terrible memories down to the bottom of her mind.

Two days later, as Crystal was unlocking the door, she heard something inside. When she got the door open, Marianne and Liu looked flustered. Liu stood up with his shirt hanging out crooked, and Marianne sat on her bed, which was wrinkled and messy looking. Both were red faced. Marianne’s hair was down and tangly. Crystal saw all this in a flash, and she thought it was amusing that they looked so embarrassed.

“We were just…” Marianne began, but she didn’t finish the sentence, gave Crystal a sickly smile and headed for the door. Liu’s dark hair still looked rumpled, beyond the way he had carefully made it into points. He stuffed his shirt back into his pants as he rushed through the door after Marianne. Crystal thought he would be good looking if only he didn’t scowl so much. She had almost caught them in some kind of sexual playing, at 2:00 PM. Sad commentary about the lack of privacy that college students had, she thought.

She got out her red diary and wrote, “Why Liu? She seemed to be getting along so well with a few other boys that I think are nice, like BeTuck Ma. Liu is slippery. I can’t stop thinking about how he got those fake IDs for us. Of course, my brother’s best friend used to sell meth and is still into marijuana so I can’t really claim I’ve never met such a bad person, or that I’m shocked. But she’s still pretty innocent. And she wants to be Bad, of course. I just think he wants to have sex with her, and not for a learning experience. Could be true of anyone she chooses for the Sex Bad.

I’m probably over-reacting. I think she’s decided to make it Liu. Will he be careful of her physical and emotional feelings? I hate the idea that it might be almost like a rape, even though she chooses to do it. Why couldn’t it be someone I thought might really be a good boyfriend? Just because we call it Bad doesn’t mean it has to be with a bad person, does it?” Crystal sat and thought about the whole situation without writing for a while.

She wrote on. “I feel motherly towards her sometimes instead of like a friend should. I wonder if that’s because I used friends as substitute mothers for me, after Mom died. I feel older than she does most of the time. But because of what happened to me, I can’t help her much with Sex Bad. That night when I had the terrible nightmare and she woke me up, I wonder if I talked in my sleep?”

She hated to think she might have told anyone about her high school experience. It was a shameful secret that she didn’t want on the student grapevine. Sondra, her high school best friend knew. She’d had to testify at Ritz and Zuni’s criminal trial too about Crystal’s nightmares. They had gone to jail, but they should be out by now. She hoped she’d never see them again. Crystal shivered, thinking about that horrible time in her life.

“I can’t worry about that now,” she told herself. “I’m having my opportunity to make a better future, so I better not blow it.” Her forehead wrinkled as she thought about how she spent so much time in her homework preparation hours worrying about whether Marianne might get pregnant and have to go back to San Francisco and go to junior college there.

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